Prague, an Unsung Hero, and the Future of Weapons of Mass Destruction Policy

It is not every day that speeches take on a life of their own, but President Obama’s April 2009 Prague speech certainly did. Speaking not just to the crowd, but to the entire international community, the President underscored America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.  President Obama acknowledged “this goal will not be reached quickly,” but with concrete steps, as well as the optimism and spirit of young people around the world, he believed that we could chart the next steps.  

The Prague speech and the policies it outlined resonated with the generation that came of age after the end of the Cold War -- a generation that must nonetheless bear the responsibility for the nuclear arsenals that remain in the world, while also keeping the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) at bay.  

President Obama speaks to thousands of people on the Hradcany Square in Prague, Czech Republic,  April 5, 2009. [AP Photo]


Throughout his terms in office, President Obama has continued to encourage the youth of America, and indeed, the youth of the world to take on the difficult task of reducing the threat posed by WMD. 

“[I]n your generation, I see the spirit we need in this endeavor -- an optimism that beats in the hearts of so many young people around the world. It’s that refusal to accept the world as it is, the imagination to see the world as it ought to be, and the courage to turn that vision into reality.”  - President Obama (3/26/12)

It was with that charge in mind that the U.S. Department of State’s Bureaus of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance (AVC) and International Security and Nonproliferation (ISN) created an annual summer conference devoted to both educating and giving voice to younger generations on international security, arms control, disarmament and nonproliferation.      

This conference drew its name from the speech that had garnered the attention of the world and was known as “Generation Prague” or “GenPrague” for short. Over the years, the Generation Prague Conference continued to expand and reach new audiences, including students and foreign policy professionals of all ages. The Conference emphasized exploring creative and cooperative solutions to the arms control and nonproliferation challenges facing the world. Past speakers included Administration officials, members of congress, military leaders, journalists, scientists, historians, academics and rising stars in the WMD policy community.  

Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman delivers remarks at the Sixth Annual Generation Prague Conference, in Washington, D.C., on July 15, 2015 [State Department photo]

Looking ahead, the State Department wants to continue to build on what we started.  No matter the Administration, no matter the speech, we will always need new experts, advocates, and practitioners to join the fight against the threats posed by WMD.

That is why we have decided to change the name of our summer conference to herald the accomplishments of an unsung hero within our ranks: James Timbie, a recently retired, 40-year veteran of the U.S. Department of State.  Timbie was a model diplomat, scientist and public servant.  His departure was a loss for the AVC and ISN Bureaus, the Department of State and indeed, the country.  

Timbie was a key player in the formation or implementation of virtually every important arms control and nonproliferation effort that occurred over the last half century. While his self-effacing nature and team-oriented demeanor ensured he stayed out of the spotlight, he is exactly the sort of government official who the country should know about.  Patient, meticulous, brilliant, and kind, Timbie continues to be a role model for all those who aspire to join or excel in the field of international security. This is why we could not think of a better namesake for a conference devoted to pushing ahead in our endeavors, no matter the obstacles. 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry poses for a photo with James Timbie, Senior Adviser to the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., before a full day of events and engagements at the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit on April 1, 2016. [State Department photo]

The James Timbie Forum for Arms Control and Nonproliferation (Timbie Forum, for short) will be dedicated to promoting new voices and fostering new ideas on WMD policy.  Like the GenPrague Conferences before it, the Timbie Forum will host diverse, dynamic and thought-provoking panels, speakers and presentations.  Our hope is to generate the kinds of concepts and communities that will help reduce the threat posed by WMD and other unconventional weapons.  

This summer’s Timbie Forum will take place on July 14 and 15 at the Department of State and the George Washington University Elliott School for International Affairs and is open to the public. 

We hope to see you there!

About the Author: Rose Gottemoeller serves as the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security and an unabashed Jim Timbie fan. 

For more information:

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry chats in a hotel hallway with James Timbie, Senior Adviser to the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, amid a break in Iranian nuclear program negotiations on March 30, 2015.
May 17, 2016


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